Monthly Archives: November 2011

Foccacia Frenzy


Kawan kawan, I’ve been travelling of late.  This time to Bergamo, Italy.  There we celebrated a special birthday – the FIL turned 80 on Friday, 25th November.  We have an octogenarian in the family. Actually, we have two, for my father is also 80.

The trip took us on a gastronomic adventure high on the hills of the Città Alta, the ancient Venetian walled city of Bergamo.  The Upper City which was built in the 17th Century forms the historic centre of Bergamo.  The Città Alta is accessible by la macchina/car, la funicular/cable car or à piedi/by foot.  On Sundays, in order to prevent congestion and pollution, the upper city is only accessible by cable car and foot.  Many stairways, built around the 17th century take residents and visitors on foot to the Upper City.  These footpaths or scale connect the Lower City to the Upper one and can be found dotted at the base of the Città Alta.

Città Alta and Città Bassa with the hills in the background

The family decided to take a stroll up along one of these stairways.  Afterall, what else is there to do on a beautiful Sunday morning in Italy?  The nearest one to the home of i nonni is aptly named del paradiso. I guess cities are built on higher ground for particular reasons – vantage point, fortification and to be situated advantageously closer to paradise.

Stairway to Heaven

At the top very top of the Città Alta is the Piazza Vecchia, the old piazza which is the upper city’s main square.  There, one can find the oldest church in Bergamo – Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore– which was founded in 1137 on another site that was constructed in the 8th Century that was dedicated to Mary. Inside the basilica, you can also find amongst various artwork, tapestries that were partly executed in Florence and the Flanders, depicting the life of Mary. These tapestries date back to at least 1583.

The Life of Mary as depicted on a piece of Tapestry

While the old folks attended mass, the young folks attended to their stomachs.  We strolled along the cobbled main street of the Upper City and found ourselves gawping open mouthed into the window of a  foccaceria.  Christmas had come early for us that day – inside this palace of bread (and not just simply bread but foccacia bread) we witnessed rows and rows of foccacia with various toppings.  Here’s my personal favourite:

A meal in itself - tuna salad on a piece of foccacia

A meal in itself.  For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I like it when meals can be cooked simply and healthily.  A one-pot stew or a dish of veg and meat stirfry – simple, healthy and delicious. And here in the città alta in Bergamo, I found  a meal on a piece of bread. This is a tweak on the open faced sandwich.

There were so many to choose from.  But we were only a couple of hours from lunch.  What do we do?  The answer was simple kawan kawan, we choose the best piece of foccacia that takes our fancies and gobble them up.  Where can we perch to eat this bread?  On the steps of the biblioteca Angelo Mai, of course.

The family getting some bread and sun

At home in London, with the help of a bread machine, I used to make foccacia.  The Italian adores this bread and we have been known to have purchased a kilo of this bread on one visit to Genoa many moons ago.  This kilo didn’t last very long, of course, as we ate it all up in one weekend!

Here’s a simple foccacia recipe that I found and tweaked:

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 (.25 ounce) packet of active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 cups all-purpose organic flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of gross salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all of the flour is absorbed. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly for about 1 minute.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C).
  5. Deflate the dough by pressing or rolling it out gently, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly. Pat or roll the dough into a sheet and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Make small indentation with your thumb and brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt.
  6. Bake focaccia in preheated oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on desired crispness. If you like it moist and fluffy, then you’ll have to wait just about 10 minutes. If you like it crunchier and darker in the outside, you may have to wait 20 minutes.

Once you know how to make the foccacia, the toppings are really whatever you want them to be.  Here look:

Fungi and Cipolla

And look again:

Frutti di Mare in the front and smoked salmon with rocket at the back

Isn’t this fabulous, kawan kawan?  No more boring sandwiches in between dry tasteless pieces of bread.  Now you have the foccacia-wich! Bon appetit, mes amies!

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Filipino Fry up


Filipino Fry up

Going Native


Once upon time, there was a woman who came from a far away country in SE Asia to work for a Saudi Arabian family who relocated to Paris during the late 1980s.   Let’s call this woman Maria and her employers, the Abdullah family.  The Abdullahs are wealthy tycoons who never travel without domestic help.  Maria was their help.

Maria came with the hope of a better life for herself and the potential to earn more money for her family back home.  With this in mind, she woke up each morning faced with a long list of chores to fulfil and not enough hours in the day to do them all.  She was exhausted. However, Maria  plodded on with her job because she had no way of leaving. She was financially dependent on the Abdullahs who kept her in their apartment every day, without even a day of rest which all employees are entitled to.

One day, a stroke of courage surged through Maria.  She knew that she had to escape the prison that has now become her workplace and home or face the prospect of ill health and death from exhaustion.  With nothing but the clothes on her back, Maria ran away.  She hid herself in a little subterranean hole by a Parisian sidewalk for days until hunger gripped her, forcing her to grab at the legs of a passerby.  Her saviour was an American journalist on a work assignment in the City of Light.  She gave Maria the equivalent of 20€ and set her on the right path.  The year was 1989.

Industrious and determined, Maria soon found work by asking personally anyone on the streets if they might need domestic help.  She had young mouths to feed back home and they depended on her.

Maria is one of the many domestic helpers from the Philippines.  Many of them are sans papiers because they are afraid of tempting fate by legalising their status in France; there might be a chance that their applications will be rejected and they would be sent home. That is because many have saved, begged, borrowed and paid the equivalent of 10,000€ for a passage to Europe, a passage that consists of one month’s tourist visa, in the hope of finding work.  They will be required to work hard for 2 – 3 years, toiling daily, in order to repay their debt. Some of them hold down a series of at least 5 jobs, working in rotation for several families.  For what is their purpose, you ask kawan kawan.

For the love of their children.

This is only a simplified answer, of course but still the most important. Underlying this is the bigger picture – a backstory of colonization, war, bartering between colonial masters, the Spaniards and the Americans, over a landmass that is home to 85 million indigenous people, and later on during independence, a series of corrupt politicians, leaving behind a nation of people who had to seek labour abroad to ensure that their families had enough food on the table.  This was what brought Maria firstly to Saudi Arabia, then to France.

Maria has been in Paris for 21 years, working and saving hard, sending the majority of the Euros she earns back to the Philippines.  For that, she sees to the education and welfare of her children and grandchildren.  Kawan kawan, Maria hasn’t had a vacation in 21 years, she has not set foot on the soil of her homeland in 21 years.

But all that is going to change.  Maria is going home.  However, unfortunately for her, this respite has come too late.  Maria is going home to die.  She has a tumour that is eating away at her brain.  The French medical team working on her has signed her death warrant and has kindly advised her son, the only family she has here in Paris, to send her to a hospice or back to her homeland.

At her hospital bed, Maria sits smiling.  Maria is always smiling, thankful for small blessings and joyful of life itself.  But today is one of the rare days when she is cognizant and recognises her visitors.   Maria thinks she is going home on vacation and she can’t wait.  She can’t wait to smell the dew that collects on each blade of grass in the morning in humid Philippines.  She longs for the local flavours her homeland brings.

As I watch the longganisapopping in my frying pan, I think of Maria.   I think of how happy she will be to taste this native sausage again, with scrambled eggs and garlic rice.

These sausages are native to the Philippines, made from indigenous spices, adapted from recipes left behind by their Spanish masters.  Longganisa’s ancestor is the chorizo.  In the Philippines,  these chorizo related sausages are usually eaten accompanied by rice, fried with garlic, rice so fragrant and extraordinarily Filipino.  Eggs are quickly scrambled to add to the meal.  I was told that this trio: Longganisa, scrambled eggs and garlic rice makes a perfect Filipino breakfast.  This is Filipino fry-up, kawan kawan! If only all fry-ups could be this delicious.

There are many varieties of longganisas in the Philippines, some more garlicky than others, some sweeter whilst others sour. The meat is almost always stuffed in a casing.

Longganisas can be made at home too, just follow the recipe below. I tweaked this reciped that comes from Filipino chef, Kristine Subido’s kitchen.

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup minced garlic
8-1/4 pounds ground pork
4-1/4 pounds coarsely ground pork back fat (streaky bacon)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce

Mix all the ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight. (You can also add a few dashes of worcestershire sauce to the mixture to give it an extra oomph.)

Form into patties or logs. Pan-fry in a nonstick skillet, with a little oil if needed, until browned on both sides. Makes about 12 pounds.

As I bite into my longganisa, I say a prayer for this dear soul, Maria.  I often think that when one has so little in this world and yet have so much to smile about, then one really does appreciate the small blessings in life.  Maria is going home, and she is thankful and happy that after 21 years, she can see the rest of her family again.

* Please refer to the following post for a yummy photo of longganisa with garlic rice and scrambled eggs.
 ** I buy my longganisas at the Philippine supermarket on rue Boissiére, Paris 16.  Ask for the ones with casings.

Lunch at Ralph’s


I was invited to lunch at Ralph’s on Thursday, kawan kawan.  It was really Erica J’s idea and she organised a ladies luncheon for a bevy of 9 beauties in the courtyard of Le restaurant Ralph Lauren.  Rather, it was really a bevy of 10 beauties, if I count little Sara J who was fast asleep in her poussette so her mama could eat.  Now, that is a well trained baby!  Hmm, this makes me wonder what I did wrong as a mom when my girls were little.  SS is too old now (she’s 13 going on 14) for me to remember what she did when she was 10 months old at lunch hour when we were out and about. I have lost plenty of brain cells since having 2 children. RN was mon pire cauchmar! She was a nightmare to take out because not only would she require lots of attention (I mean 110 %), she would not sit in her poussette and let me get on with my meal.  I would be juggling baby in one arm and trying to cut up my meat with a fork in the other hand.  Not an easy feat, let me tell ya!  It came to a point when the Italian had to cut my meat up for me so that I could juggle baby in one arm and stab said meat with the fork in the other hand.  It was fine when RN was a little baby and asleep or feeding at my boobs most of the time while I ate. I figured she had to eat too so what better than direct transfusion of vitamins and minerals from my mouth to the breast milk  and to her. Things got hairy when she started to be more active and required even more attention. It was then that I really had to juggle or rather jiggle her up and down with one arm and still try to feed myself with the one free hand I had.

I had to play this role of one-arm bandit for some time until RN learnt to sit in her highchair and play with the pieces of meat or veg we threw at her.  It was such a relief to be able to eat normally again – with two hands.  During those one-arm-bandit days, I learnt to fully appreciate the fact that I have two healthy limbs on my upper body and their functions.  Imagine trying to change nappies with only one hand?

Anyway, I digress…..Excusez-moi!

Back to lunching at Ralph’s.  We were all so excited, especially me!  I’ve never dined at Ralph’s before although I’ve heard so much about it.  Being unprecedentedly warm for November, we were able to dine al fresco.  This is not something I would do usually in November.  Je préfère être à l’intérieur  at this time of the year.  So  I positioned myself under the heat lamp next to Christine B. I figured and hedged my bets that between the sunny and warm personality of Christine B and the heat lamp, I would be cosy and all warmed up.

We perused the menu between sips of red wine (Californian) and munchies of nuts and fried olives.  Now, these wine nuts and olives do top all wine nuts and olives.  The nuts which consisted of a mixture of walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts and hazelnuts, I seem to remember, were roasted in olive oil and rosemary, served warm and garnished with salt crystals. They were truly deeee-licious!  I heard that the Barefoot Contessa has a recipe for this.  I will have to check it out.

The wine nuts I went nutty about

It was a reasonably well selected menu with a variety of choices from starters to desserts.  The beef is airflown from America, apparently from Ralph’s own ranch.  I was very tempted by the steak and frites American style but the prices held me back.  60€ for a steak is just way too much to pay.  I just couldn’t justify the cost. I mean, what would the Italian say to that?  To him, les vaches are les vaches, whether they graze on grass in Ralph’s ranch in America or l’herbe in La Belle France!  As a compromise, I had the cheese burger instead which was good but not great!  I’m glad I didn’t order the steak then.

But I really want to tell you about 2 starters that caused a ripple of delight in my stomach.  Firstly, the shrimps with Montauk sauce.

Shrimp Cocktail with Red Sauce

I had to ask what Montauk sauce was, of course.  It was really a simple tomato base sauce, kind of a cross between ketchup and barbecue sauce. I know the Americans are as famous for their sauces as the French and personally I like cocktail and thousand island sauces.

What wowed me were the prawns (as we call them in England and Singapore). The shrimps that Americans refer to are really not shrimps as I know them to be. Shrimps are tiny little prawns whereas prawns are huge shrimps.  That’s when things get lost in translation here and we are both speaking English…..nevermind when you have to translate shrimps into crevettes and prawns into gambas….and at the end of the day, it is all a matter of size.  Where was I again?

Right, shrimp cocktail with Montauk sauce.  The shrimps were truly mums! They were cooked just right, therefore firm and crunchy and  served chilled on a bed of crushed ice.  They went very well with the Montauk.  They were such large shrimps that after 3 of them, I was actually rather full. Then again, I had plenty of delicious rosemary infused nuts and fried olives before.

Christine B shared the Sante Fe soup with her friend who was visiting from America.  Now, this soup is simply out of this world.  What was even more amazing was that in a truly American restaurant, the concept of sharing is very well understood.  The waiter served this bowl of soup portioned out in 2 small bowls, one for Christine B and the other for her friend. (The said waiter must be American trained!)  I was that impressed that I forgot to take a picture of it. Actually, I was that impressed that I was even thinking that these American visitors had better not get used to this.  It ain’t gonna happen in a French bistro, I betchya!

So, on the record, and I have proclaimed, if you ever want to share a bowl of soup properly, go to Ralph’s. No such thing as passing over the bowl with the last few spoonfuls to your friend when it’s her turn.  It is proper sharing here with the soup portioned out in two separate bowls.  There, I know you get it now…. I had to reiterate this for my own sake!  The same thing works for the burger too….. half a burger each, properly served in two separate plates….

Katie K had the Sante Fe soup too. I had asked if she wanted to share it with me but I guess she thought that it involved passing over the plate after a few spoonfuls and considered it too cumbersome to do so. She had her own!  Katie, although being American and after having lived in Paris for the past year, had simply forgotten what service really is.  I bet she was just as wowed by the separate soup bowls as I was.   Here’s her soup:

The Sante Fe Soup

The Sante Fe soup is really a bean soup made from black beans, red and pinto beans.  There are several versions of this soup but the main ingredients are these black beans that one can only find in America. The original recipe (or those that I’ve researched anyway) has ground beef in.  I guess, the vegetarians can remove that.  Ralph’s version of this New Mexican dish is served with a ball of avocado stuffed with cheddar cheese in its hollow in a base of chopped tomatoes and olive oil.  I really loved this soup.  Christine B was kind enough to let me have more than 3 spoonfuls and Katie K kindly took a picture of her version.

I’ll be making this soup, kawan kawan in the near future.  If I can’t find black beans (and they are not black eyed beans either) I may have to find me a substitute.  Kawan kawan, do any of you know what beans I can substitute for the black ones?

Ralph Lauren

173 Boulevard Saint-Germain
Paris
01 44 77 76 00

 

Frying the Frikadeller


Kawan kawan, I’ve just returned from a visit to Denmark, where SS learnt about Viking warships and RN had a time of her life being pounced on by a French bulldog.  The said dog belongs to friends who live in Denmark.  The said dog is so happy to be in the company of RN, a little person that he couldn’t help but pounce on her every now and then.  On his hind legs, he comes to almost the same height as RN and he’s not even a big dog.  RN is a little parcel, all good and full of surprises!

In the Land of Danes, I learnt about love and family and the camaraderie of good friends.  I also learnt to make meatballs, Danish way, with glasses of red wine in between.  This recipe was passed down from Mr T’s mother to him.  She in turn learnt it from her mother who in turn learnt it from hers. Hence, if you go down far enough in the matriarchal lineage of meatball recipes, you will see a long line of Viking women guarding and passing down their recipes of frikadeller with pride.  Danish meatballs is as perfunctory as Bolognese sauce or ragù.  And I don’t mean this in a demeaning way, for anything that is made at home is done out of love, even dishes as easy as  frikadeller or ragù.  Frikadeller is something a Danish mother makes when there is a packet of mince and a couple onions lying about the house. An Italian mother would make ragù similarly if said mince and onions are about the house. She will cook and stir a pot of ragù for hours, a meat sauce she will make on a daily basis and perhaps refrigerate what’s leftover for use on another occasion.  Each Danish family has their version of frikadeller as each Italian household has its own version of ragù.

When asked what I’d like to sample in Denmark, I asked for meatballs since I’ve heard so much about Scandinavian meatballs on other occasions.  On visits to Ikea, these are my favourite things to have at their café.  I would purchase a pack or two of their frozen Swedish meatballs for emergency.  They are such good things to have in the freezer when little tykes come to play and stay for dinner.

Mr T who hails from a pure Viking line does not have any sisters.  So his mother who also comes from a matriarchal lineage of Viking women, passed her recipe down to him. He has guarded it with pride until my visit when he passed it to me. I have no claims to Viking blood except having been previously married to an Englishman whose daughter I bore, who has claims of Viking ancestry. If you ask SS, she’ll tell you that she is technically a quarter Viking!  So that makes me technically the keeper of some Viking blood which makes me technically eligible for a good frikadeller recipe, in my books!

Mr T’s version of frikadeller consists of a mélange of pork and veal mince, mixed together with 2 grated onions, a clove of minced garlic and an egg to bind the meat mixture. The tear drop meat balls, shaped by two soup spoons, are then fried in butter until browned and well done.

My version consists of:

500g of minced veal

2 white onions, grated

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp of chives, finely chopped

3-4 fistfuls of oatmeal (I wear size 7 gloves, so take your measurements from there, kawan kawan)

1/2 tbsp of parsley, finely chopped

3 tbsp of créme fluide or milk

1 egg

salt and pepper to taste

I’ve never grated onions before as I’ve never had use for onions in this way.  Let me tell you this, kawan kawan, grating onions cause just as much tears as chopping and slicing them.  I was in floods of tears by the time those two onions were grated.  Even RN commented on how sad I was.  Then she saw the onions and nodded her sage little head in comprehension and promptly left the kitchen. Wise little soul!

Bowl of Grated Sadness

That done, I minced the garlic and added them to the bowl of minced veal that had already been seasoned with salt and pepper.

Garlic and Veal

The grated onions are then added into this bowl, juice and all, with the herbs and oatmeal.  The latter ingredient is very important in frikadeller as this will help keep the meat moist and succulent.

The other ingredients!

Using a kneading motion, make sure that the meat is massaged well with all the ingredients mentioned.

The well massaged veal

In a shallow frying pan, heat up some butter.  Shape the meat mixture into tear drops with two soup spoons and place them one by one gently into the frying pan. Butter browns meat beautifully and once the meatballs have been browned on one side, turn them over gently, trying not to break them.  You will know when the meatballs are done when they are firm and no longer have the tendency to break.

I had to do mine in two batches.  So lots of butter later, and if you’ve done them right, your frikadeller should look like this:

Frikadeller

I think I may have passed the frikadeller test.  But that is not for me to say, of course.  I am waiting for Mr T to comment, he being the true Viking and all.  But having said that, the Italian wolfed his down as did the girls.  Man, those friggin’ frikadellers were mums (yums in Danish)!